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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 222: Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya - FS1 preliminary card preview

Get the scoop on the FS1 prelims of UFC 222, featuring a fast-paced contest between bantamweights John Dodson and Pedro Munhoz, plus the UFC debut of Mackenzie Dern.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Norfolk-Dodson vs Moraes Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

It isn’t a surprise Mackenzie Dern was put in the final contest of the prelims. A skilled athlete who is easy on the eyes, the UFC sees her as another potential Ronda Rousey. Not that anyone has come out and said anything as ludicrous as that. It would be a horrible idea to come out and put those type of expectations on the youngster even before she has stepped foot in the UFC. Nonetheless, high expectations are there for the BJJ phenom.

Though UFC 222 hasn’t come across as a sexy card, there are certainly some bright spots outside of the main and co-main event. My personal favorite would be the bantamweight contest between Pedro Munhoz and John Dodson. Neither are considered to be in the inner-circle of contenders at 135 and it’s doubtful a win here would be enough to elevate them to that level. Despite that, both are exceptionally skilled and should put on a hell of a show.

The FS1 prelims begin at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Ashley Yoder (5-3) vs. Mackenzie Dern (5-0), Women’s Strawweight

Perhaps the brightest women’s prospect to enter the UFC since the inception of women’s divisions, Dern is being set up to pick up a win against Yoder. It isn’t that Yoder is a walk in the park. There isn’t a strawweight on the roster more scrappy than the woman known as the Spider Monkey. Some may view scrappy as a negative connotation, but it’s a very real compliment. Yes, Yoder’s striking it still very clunky and her grappling technique can’t compete with Dern’s, but Yoder’s grit and scrambling ability make her one of the tougher outs in the division.

Hardcore fans already know all about Dern. Receiving her black belt in BJJ even before she turned 20, three of Dern’s five victories have come via submission, showing off her well-reputed grappling chops. She still has a very long way to go on the feet. For instance, she chases, not understanding how to properly cut angles and her punches are telegraphed from a mile away. The tools are there to turn her into a standout though as she has natural power and good strength in the clinch. It’s just going to take time. Dern’s overall wrestling still needs polish – a lot – but she does have some trips in close quarters to get the fight where she is strongest.

Yoder doesn’t have the tools to be a special fighter. What she does have is the determination to bring down someone who does… provided her opponent has yet to tap her potential. Much like Dern. I’m still picking Dern to pull out the win, but Yoder will give her a run for her money and provide the youngster some valuable experience. Dern via decision

Beneil Dariush (14-3-1) vs. Alexander Hernandez (8-1), Lightweight

Originally scheduled to be Bobby Green against Dariush, Hernandez was inserted into the contest a little over a week before the event as a short-notice replacement. Though Hernandez has shown promise on the regional scene, stepping into the cage with Dariush is throwing the youngster to the wolves.

Though Dariush was best known for his BJJ chops upon his UFC entry – he was a no-gi world champion – he’s been more than content to keep his fights on the feet. Thanks to his tutelage under Rafael Cordeiro, he’s become an aggressive counter striker – pressuring in hopes of getting opponents to throw at him in addition to a high frequency of kicks – who pushes a hard pace. Dariush did expend a lot of energy early in his last contest against Evan Dunham in his last contest pursuing a finish, indicating either poor conditioning or poor energy management. Given it hasn’t been an issue in the past, it’s more likely he suffered an adrenaline dump and his energy level shouldn’t be a concern.

Look for Dariush’s slick guard passes on the ground to come into play at some point as Hernandez is largely a wrestler. He does have some solid kicks and natural power in his hands, but his constant marching forward appears to be perfect for Dariush to either counter or nail a well-timed takedown. Hernandez does possess relentless ground-and-pound he’ll no doubt unleash if he gets an opportunity to unleash it upon Dariush, but Dariush’s most underrated skill set is his takedown defense.

If Dariush is once again poor at managing his energy levels, Hernandez stands a chance as the Texas native pushes an insane pace with a deep gas tank. Aside from that, Dariush appears to be the craftier fighter in all phases of the sport. Expect Dariush to get an early finish. Dariush via submission of RD1

John Dodson (20-9) vs. Pedro Munhoz (15-2, 1 NC), Bantamweight

The original contest between these two – scheduled in Brazil in early February -- was cancelled when Munhoz badly missed weight, coming in at 141 pounds. Munhoz blamed the situation on a lack of hot water in his hotel in Brazil – preventing him from soaking in the tub with Epsom salt – and promised he’d make good on his weight if provided a second chance.

Though many smaller fighters begin to lose their athleticism as they approach their mid-30’s, Dodson shows no signs of losing any of physical abilities. He’s still in the argument for the quickest fighter on the roster, darting in and out of the pocket to deliver his offense. Though he still has explosive power in his fists, Dodson has improved his ability to put together short boxing combinations to add more volume to his attack. I’m not saying they are the smoothest combinations, but they are an improvement from earlier in his UFC career. He’s also developed a greater reliance on low kicks. Still, Dodson’s ability to explode with a single power shot remains his greatest weapon.

Munhoz’s greatest weapon is his ground game. About as dangerous of a scrambler as there is in the sport, Munhoz’s knack for finding a choke in those situations is top notch. Nobody will confuse him for being a world-class wrestler, but he also doesn’t get enough credit for his abilities in that field either. His striking has gained attention as he was able to hurt Rob Font with a brutal left hook, even though he’s an orthodox fighter. However, Munhoz’s unusually short reach -- 64” on a 5’6” frame – has made it incredibly difficult for him to score his offense without taking a lot of damage in return. Fortunately for him, he’s double-tough, though that ability doesn’t last forever.

Even though Munhoz has yet to be finished his career, he has been hurt on several occasions. If he can avoid Dodson’s power shots, he stands a chance as his ability to string together fluid combinations exceeds that of Dodson’s. Still, I favor Dodson’s power and speed to make the difference and eventually put Munhoz away. Dodson via KO of RD2

CB Dollaway (17-9) vs. Hector Lombard (34-8, 2 NC), Middleweight

Interesting contest between two grapplers turned power strikers whose careers have been on the skids. Granted, Dollaway did have a brief excursion to light heavyweight where he somewhat righted his ship against another middleweight in Ed Herman, but the future for Dollaway or Lombard doesn’t seem that bright.

Lombard may go down as the single biggest high-priced free agent bust in the history of the UFC. He has lost four in a row with a 3-6 record with a no contest. Hardly the type of production the UFC paid him big bucks for. His formerly rock-solid chin has eroded to the point he has been put away in three of his last four contests due to strikes. However, Lombard still has the power that made him such a dangerous threat in his prime. Well… most of it. He’s been able to hurt his opponents, but not put them away. Lombard still has his judo base that fans often forget about. While it has been useful for him to nail the occasional takedown, he’s also used his judo skills to fall back on when things aren’t going his way, resulting in him eating loads of damage.

Dollaway doesn’t appear to be quite as chinny as Lombard, but neither is he quite as hard of a hitter. Nonetheless, Dollaway still has more than enough power to put away someone with a deteriorating chin. Much like Lombard with his judo base, Dollaway still has his collegiate wrestling base, but he had largely abandoned it until the Herman fight this past summer. However, he also exhibited horrible defense, allowing the glacial Herman to nail him with some heavy shots. His chin held up… but will it against the harder hitting Lombard?

Lombard has fallen further from his peak status than Dollaway, but he also had a lot further to fall from than the ASU alum. Neither owns a chin that anyone is envious of, so I’ll go with whom I believe will be able to land a hard shot first. Lombard has consistently hurt his opponents in every fight during his recent skid. That’s enough for me to pick him… though I’d rather not pick either competitor. Lombard via KO of RD1